Messy Church is church for families who may not find other forms of church appealing and who don’t yet belong to a church. It is typically held once a month, includes hands-on creative experiences, a celebration and a meal. It does not prioritise either the needs of children or adults but intentionally welcomes and provides for all ages.
Messy Church started in 2004 in the UK and has grown and spread all around the world and to many denominations as part of the Fresh Expressions movement. In Australia there have been Messy Churches since 2010 and many churches have been blessed through seeing Messy Church as a form of mission to whole families, not just children.
While each Messy Church is unique, there are underpinning values that are shared. It is church, not a kids’ club or Bible study. Therefore each Messy Church is Christ-centred and available and welcoming to all ages. There is a strong emphasis on hospitality from the invitation, the welcome at the door, the knowing of people’s names, the offer of conversation and drinks to sharing worship and a sit-down meal for all. The celebration is an invitation to worship through song, prayers and story. Creativity in many forms is encouraged, nurtured and explored by people of all ages, together.
The people who coordinate and attend Messy Church become a congregation of that church in their own right, not a stepping stone to the existing (usually Sunday morning) congregation. It is not a franchise, but a model to be adapted to your needs. But a warning, the more it is adapted from the simple formula that has been developed, the less it ‘works’.
Messy Church needs a core team of three to four people to coordinate a wider team of ten to twelve people with different gifts. This leadership team needs to spend time listening to God, reflecting on their local community’s needs and communicating effectively with the existing congregation. The leadership team should read widely, visit other Messy Churches, stay linked into the Messy Church network, plan thoroughly and be faithful to the values of Messy Church. It should be fun too!
It can be easy to get preoccupied with getting our message across to people, or organizing children into games and activities, but Messy Church tries to focus on people as they are and form relationships with whole families, no strings attached. God is doing some amazing things through Messy Church – not just with the new people who come, but re-vitalising the faith of many of the leaders and blessing whole congregations with new vision.
A reflective prayer for Messy Church leaders:
help us remember that the recycled construction models will disintegrate, the balloons will burst,
the writing in the sand will be brushed away,
the decorated biscuits will vanish in the twinkling of an eye
and the fridge magnets will fall apart.
The sound of a song or story will dissipate into thin air.
Meal after meal will be cooked, eaten and forgotten.
But what goes into these experiences
– the love, discernment and prayer,
the kindness, generosity and sacrifice,
the joy, wisdom and yearning for God’s kingdom …
These are things of Christ, of eternity and it is through these invisible means that we will all be transformed and healed and saved.
A typical Messy Church has these elements:
- a relaxed welcome time with drinks and snacks
- creative exploration of a Bible story or theme through many creative experiences for people of different learning styles and of all ages
- children and adults are not separated and are encouraged to explore the story or theme together
- a short celebration time builds on the creative exploration that has already occurred. It usually consists of story, song and prayer
- generous welcome and hospitality is expressed through an invitation to share a delicious home-cooked, sit-down meal with others